July 1, 2022

IntelBrief: The Implications of More Guns on American Streets

AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

Bottom Line Up Front

  • In a recent decision, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded nationally guaranteed gun rights.
  • In a blow to states’ rights and the gun reform movement, the Court struck down a century-old New York State law regulating the individual’s right to carry a firearm in public.
  • The recent ruling could call into question various states’ laws limiting the carrying of firearms in public and limit the ability of law enforcement agencies to combat the illicit arms trade.
  • Despite the string of mass shootings, many in schools, the recent Supreme Court decision, increasing the rights of gun owners, reinforces a troubling strain of American exceptionalism.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York State & Rifle Association v. Bruen, No. 20-843 continues the trend of expanding gun rights by emphasizing the ‘shall not be infringed’ and minimizing the ‘a well-regulated militia.’ For those who believe more guns are the appropriate approach to reduce gun crimes, the Court’s decision is a positive development and one more step toward dismantling all or most of existing gun regulations. For others, the decision is another step towards a reality where guns pose an ever-present danger to public life in America with no reasonable restrictions.

There are now more guns in America than Americans. Years of record firearm sales have flooded the streets with guns, which has inevitably led to increased usage and an uptick in violence. More than 19 million guns were sold in the U.S. in 2021. The flood of gun sales has not reduced gun violence, a nonsensical argument made by many proponents of guns. Approximately 45,000 Americans died in 2020 from guns: 24,292 by suicide and 19,384 by homicide. Homicide rates have increased in U.S. cities, and in locales with both strong and weak gun regulations. Having a gun greatly increases the risk of being injured or killed by gunfire. Access to firearms in times of mental crisis massively increases the risk an attempted suicide will prove fatal. It is also important to note that, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, gun violence disproportionately affects low-income and working-class communities in the U.S. Because the effects of gun violence are concentrated in marginalized communities, many mainstream proponents – including politicians - of lifting regulations on firearms are never impacted by the negative effects of increased firearm availability.

In the face of increasing gun violence, several U.S. states have jettisoned permit requirements for “concealed carry” of firearms; that is, carrying a firearm without declaring or demonstrating its presence. Some, like Georgia, have enacted ‘constitutional carry’ laws that allow for permitless concealed carry in almost any location. The rationale for such laws is that because criminals are unlikely to complete a background check and the other steps required to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm in public, the laws are useless and only serve to infringe on the rights of lawful gun owners. This rationale, that laws are useless because criminals do not obey them, ignores the fact that it is precisely these laws—laws regulating concealed carry—that police officers use to affect arrest in many gun crimes. When a permit is required and an officer observes indications someone may be concealing a firearm (such as adjusting a pistol in the waistband or keeping one arm closer to the body to keep the gun from moving), police are authorized to conduct an investigative stop to determine if the individual has a firearm and is authorized to carry a concealed firearm in public. Now, in cases of ‘constitutional carry,’ the presumption is everyone is allowed to carry concealed firearms and police will require often unattainable information to initiate a search aimed at controlling illegal firearm possession. Despite what proponents of abolishing most or all gun regulations claim, firearm regulations are a foundation for deterring gun crime and without effective legislation, law enforcement agencies’ ability to protect the public is greatly reduced.

Gun laws also help reduce the overall number of guns on the streets. When everyone is armed, then every argument or disagreement carries the increased risk of devolving into a gunfight. Increasing access to guns is not the crime deterrent that proponents insist it is and the ‘good guy with a gun’ argument remains unsupported by the existing, available data. Instead, it is an emotive marketing campaign pushed by groups who are largely protected from the deleterious effects of gun violence. As NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller noted in a recent interview, unregulated concealed carry has the potential to turn American streets into the ‘wild west.’ This is a particularly concerning possibility as polarization and political violence in the U.S. continues to mount. As a growing number of Americans question the viability and even survival of democracy in the country, firearm sales continue to rise. Far-right extremist groups and domestic terrorists in the U.S. are now more heavily armed than some offshoots of al-Qaeda and Islamic State given the relative ease of access to high-powered weaponry. While significant checks remain in place to counter the most virulent of these groups, increasing access to firearms at a time of historic political discord comes as a curious decision for many Americans, not to mention America’s allies and business partners.